What Leaders Can Learn From Steve Kerr

Jul 10, 2018 | by Adam Mendler, Forbes

Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Elgin Baylor are among the greatest names associated with the game of basketball. Yet none of those players reached the ultimate goal: winning an NBA championship. Steve Kerr has won a staggering eight NBA championships -- three as a sharpshooter with the Chicago Bulls, two as a grizzled veteran off the bench with the San Antonio Spurs and three in his current role as head coach of Golden State Warriors. Kerr's Warriors have won three out of the last four NBA championships, which have taken place over the course of Kerr's first four years as a coach in the NBA. While Kerr has had the great fortune of playing with and coaching the best players in the league at the time -- from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to Tim Duncan to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant -- Kerr played a key role on each of teams that reached the top, most notably as the leader of a Warriors franchise poised to continue to dominate for years to come. Leaders can learn a lot from the unique success Kerr has been able to achieve and how he has been able to achieve it.

Do What You Believe Is Right, Even If It Will Disappoint Others

After his playing days ended, Steve Kerr joined Turner Network Television (TNT) as a color commentator for four years. He left to become the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and returned to TNT three years later. In his second stint as a sportscaster, Kerr expressed interest in transitioning from the broadcast booth to the bench and was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by his mentor and former coach Phil Jackson. Considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports, let alone professional basketball, Jackson took over one of the game's marquee franchises, the New York Knicks, and offered his mentee the team's head coaching job, even though Kerr had no coaching experience. Incredibly, Kerr turned down the offer and joined the Warriors instead, passing up the opportunity to coach the Knicks and work directly under the legendary Jackson in favor of joining an organization with a deep tradition of losing that was only interested in hiring him because their top choice already rejected them.

Following his gut, Kerr believed the Warriors job was a better personal fit, given the proximity of Oakland to his family in San Diego, and needless to say, the wrenching decision was the right one. All leaders are faced with tough decisions and must make difficult judgment calls based on what they believe is right. You have to live with your decisions -- follow your heart and do what you believe is right, even when doing so can be challenging and may be to the detriment of those closest to you.

Build Up And Empower Other Leaders In Your Organization 

Because they often focus on honing their own leadership skills, managers can easily overlook the importance of developing the leadership skills of their subordinates. All leaders should look to Steve Kerr’s focus on developing and empowering his assistants, building other great coaches to help him lead and to step in in his absence. Kerr's notable mentorship of his lieutenants has been instrumental to the Warriors’ sustained success, as Kerr has faced recurring back problems that have sidelined him from the team for extensive and key stretches. Kerr missed the first 43 games of the 2015-2016 season, and his top assistant Luke Walton went a staggering 39-4 in Kerr’s absence. Kerr missed the first three rounds of the 2017 playoffs; his top assistant Mike Brown went 12-0.

As an entrepreneur involved in multiple businesses, developing people within my organization to grow into leadership roles could not be more important. Everyone is reliant on those around them, and the more ably those in your employ can lead, the more effective and successful you will be as a leader.

Believe In Your Vision, Even If It And You Are Unproven 

Even though he was an inexperienced and unproven coach taking over a Warriors team coming off one of its most successful seasons in franchise history, Steve Kerr was unafraid to break sharply from the status quo and implement an offensive systemthat had not been used by any team in basketball. Even when the Warriors initially struggled with the changes Kerr pushed, he executed on his vision, and the rest is history -- the Warriors have become one of the greatest teams in basketball history, and seemingly every team in basketball has tried to copy key elements that define their style of play.

As a leader, you should think boldly, unafraid of criticism or second-guessing, and have confidence in your own judgment, even if and when it goes against the wisdom of the crowd, is met with resistance and does not work out as planned right away. By definition, disruptors are not constrained by conventional thinking, and leadership is anything but the art of following.

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